Okay, enough crap. It’s Romney

Last night, Mitt Romney won Arizona by 21 points and his home state of Michigan by 3. We all had our fun trying to figure out ways he could end up losing this thing, but it’s time for us in the reality-based community to stop pretending: Mitt Romney will be the 2012 Republican Presidential Candidate.

I am as guilty of anyone at performing the mental gymnastics that were required to somehow turn Newt “love ’em and leave ’em” Gingrich or the Frothy One into plausible winners of the nomination, but after last night, anyone peddling a horse race at this stage probably has stock in the track.

That Santorum was able to lose Michigan to a guy who argued for letting Detroit go bankrupt is just testament to his awfulness as a candidate. Attacking JFK over separation of church and state? Contraception is not okay? All Santorum had to do was to keep pounding the message that he delivered in his Iowa victory speech and he could have won easily. But, like Bono said, he has political Tourette’s.

This isn’t to say that Romney is a good candidate. He’s not. He’s terrible. But he does have the money and the organization and he will win this thing.

Case in point: in Ohio, where Santorum currently has a sizable lead over Romney in the polls, Santorum hasn’t bothered to secure delegates in three of the districts. So even if he wins Ohio, there are 9 of the 66 total delegates that are completely off the table for him.

Want more? Okay, how’s this: go try to find how Santorum is doing in polls in Virginia. Can you find any polls that include Santorum? That’s not a rhetorical question; I honestly don’t know, because I don’t care. And the reason I don’t care is because Santorum didn’t bother to collect the signatures necessary to get on the ballot in Virginia. Romney will win that state.

Santorum is running a pretty good amateur campaign, but the key word is amateur. Romney is running a terrible professional campaign, and will win.

So if you tune into your favorite cable news station and they are earnestly talking about how important Super Tuesday is, or Mini Super Tuesday, or Not Quite Super Tuesday, or whatever, they aren’t talking about importance to the candidates and their chances of securing the nomination; they’re talking about how important those days could be to their ratings.

Now, having said all that, is it possible that Mitt Romney could still lose this? Sure. Nothing is settled until it’s all over. But is it likely? No. At all? No. Intrade currently has Romney trading at 83% to win the nomination and I think that’s low.

I’m willing to listen to scenarios where Romney loses the nomination, but at this point, in my mind, the burden of proof has shifted. You need to show some pretty compelling evidence for me to even consider it.

Those of us who call ourselves “liberals” or “progressives” or just “not crazy” need to face the reality that neither Rick Santorum nor Newt Gingrich nor even Ron Paul is going to save us from the hard work required to keep a sane, competent, and pragmatic president in the White House. The opponent will be Romney. The election will probably be much closer than it should be. We need to get to work.

Don’t hate the player (okay, severely dislike the player)

Well, today’s the day for Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Michigan and Arizona vote today in the GOP Primary that keeps on giving — to President Obama. I’m somewhat wary of making bold pronouncements like “this is the most important day thus far in this primary battle,” but, well, this probably is the most important day thus far in this primary battle.

Or maybe not. Look, I’ve been proceeding this entire time under the assumption that Mitt Romney is the only candidate who can actually win this thing. No one else can raise the money and no one else has anything close to the organization that Romney has. It’s almost like he’s been doing this for six straight years or something. Ahem.

So even when Gingrich won in South Carolina (and doesn’t that seem like a long time ago) and everyone was freaking out, I never really believed that Romney wouldn’t win. And then Romney was able to reverse a double-digit Gingrich polling lead in Florida in a pretty short time and win easily there. (If you can call outspending your opponents by a zillion-to-one easy, that is.)

But then you had the Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri contests three weeks ago and Santorum swept them. Two of those states, Colorado and Minnesota, had been won easily by Romney four years ago. And then early polling out of Michigan put Santorum up by a touchdown or more and, well, Mr. Inevitable doesn’t seem so inevitable anymore.

But just like Romney’s machine went after Gingrich in Florida, it started attacking Santorum in Michigan. And Santorum doesn’t help himself out either. Bono, who worked closely with Santorum on stopping AIDS in Africa, said this about him:

I would suggest that Rick Santorum has a kind of Tourette’s disease; he will always say the most unpopular thing. But on our issues, he has been a defender of the most vulnerable.

So you have Santorum out there talking about how contraception is “not okay” and how one of John Kennedy’s most famous and admired speeches made him want to vomit.

The feeling in the punditocracy is that Romney must win Michigan. Again, I’m wary of any of these definitive breathless statements that so-called experts make as they are trying to convince people to pay attention to their coverage of the horserace. They have an interest in promoting the drama behind the race, that is at odds with their interest to provide objective analysis. I still don’t see how anyone but Romney wins this.

Still…

According to Jonathan Karl at ABC, a prominent (yet anonymous? hmmm.) GOP Senator said, “If Romney loses Michigan, we need a new candidate.” This bravely anonymous GOP Senator went on to say that if Romney loses, he will publicly call for someone else to get into the race. Support Santorum?  Hahaha.  No.

The prospect of a drawn out race and Republicans in disarray, and perhaps a brokered convention, has inspired Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas to launch “Operation Hilarity,” inspired by Rush Limbaugh’s failed “Operation Chaos” from four years ago. Its stated goal is to just keep this clown show going for as long as possible, and the way to do that? Kos is urging Democrats in Michigan to vote for Rick Santorum in the open GOP primary today.

This has caused a bit of hand-wringing in the liberal blogosphere, about whether Democrats should stoop to the same level as Rush Limbaugh to try to muck up the GOP primary.

When I first heard about the strategy, I was against it, but not because of any sense that it was wrong to follow the rules that the GOP uses in some states. I just thought it was a bad strategic move, since at the time, it looked like Santorum was going to win anyway. If he’s going to win, why give Romney the opportunity to look like a victim?

But now it’s close. Really close. As of this writing, Nate Silver has the race projected as a tie, with both Santorum and Romney having a 50% chance of winning. (Note: I wrote that last night. By this morning, the projection had shifted to favoring Romney at 55%.) So it is actually conceivable that Michigan Democrats could give Santorum a victory today.

Sensing this, the Santorum campaign has crafted this pitch to Michigan Democrats:

And the Romney campaign has called foul:

It is outrageous that Rick Santorum is inviting Democrats into the Republican primary to vote against Mitt Romney. Rick Santorum has moved beyond just ‘taking one for the team,’ he is now willing to wear the other team’s jersey if he thinks it will get him more votes. We believe that Republicans will decide who wins Michigan – and we are confident that will be Mitt Romney.

This is yet another reason that I dislike Mitt Romney. He has forced me to defend Rick Santorum. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Rick Santorum making a pitch to Democratic voters. Ronald Reagan won his huge victories because he convinced “Reagan Democrats” to vote for him, and if Santorum wants to win against Obama, it is obvious he would have to do the same. Inviting those presumed Santorum Democrats (that was tough to type) to vote for him in a perfectly legal primary is not outrageous. It’s good politics.

Most Democrats I know (despite inuyesta’s excellent post about who we should be rooting for) will be rooting for Rick Santorum to defeat Mitt Romney today in Michigan, and hoping for the GOP freakout to follow. I guess I will too, given my own thoughts on the matter.

But honestly, despite the ABC News reporting from anonymous GOP Senators, and breathless reporting by pundits telling us this is the most important primary ever, I still kind of think Romney really is inevitable, despite being a horribly unlikable candidate, and this probably will be just another speed bump on his way to Tampa, and ultimately losing in November.

The Aftermath of February 7: Where do we go from here?

It seems that the race for the GOP Presidential nomination has reached another inflection point, so it must be time for another broad overview of the campaign.

We’ll begin with Tuesday’s headliner, Rick Santorum, who swept the Colorado and Minnesota caucuses in impressive fashion.  Santorum also won the Missouri caucuses, which doesn’t mean anything at all in terms of delegates, but makes his night all the more impressive.  The last time I made a post of this kind, I had this to say about the Santorum campaign’s prospects:

 If a Gingrich collapse is to occur in time to benefit Santorum, it must happen in time for Santorum to capitalize in Colorado and Minnesota, both of which Santorum must win.  There does seem to be fertile ground in those states for Santorum: both states are known to have strong social conservative streaks and both states have better-than-average unemployment numbers, which may give social issues a chance to shine.  If it doesn’t happen for Santorum in those caucuses, however, I seriously doubt his campaign will make it to the February 28th states.

Well, things went exactly according to plan for Santorum.  Romney throttled the former Speaker in Florida and Nevada and retook a commanding lead in the national polls. It seems Gingrich did in fact collapse, and did so just in time for Santorum to capitalize.

However, we cannot count Gingrich entirely out at this point.  He still has a very strong base in the South and should be expected to win Georgia and Tennessee on Super Tuesday, as well as at least competitive showings in states like Idaho, Ohio, Alaska, Oklahoma, and Virginia.   This is problematic for Santorum, whose strategy seems to rely on being the sole anti-Romney.  If the anti-Romney coalition (to the extent that this is a real thing) remains fractured between Gingrich and Santorum, with each of them winning states here and there and fighting for second in the states Romney wins, then the only possible results are a Romney victory or (dare I say it) a brokered convention.   Though Republican heavies intentionally designed this primary season to produce a lengthy nomination fight, it is nearly inconceivable that the party would allow a brokered convention to occur.  To my mind, this means that one of Gingrich or Santorum must step up and unquestionably become the anti-Romney before the party establishment senses real danger and moves to squash both of them.

Thus, I have to consider Santorum’s position rather enviable.  He has “won four states” (if Iowa and Missouri can really be counted as wins) – the most of any candidate.  Further, he has shown that he can win states without relying on a decisive fundraising advantage; you will recall that Romney’s wins in Florida and Nevada had as much to do with him carpetbombing both states with anti-Gingrich material as anything else; Gingrich’s South Carolina win was fueled by Sheldon Adelson’s Super PAC largess.  This is proof positive of one of the most shocking aspects of the 2012 campaign: how remarkably likeable Santorum has come across.  To be sure, Santorum is an unrepentant theocrat, a culture-warrior and bigot of the first degree – but that was stuff we all knew prior to the race.  Clearly there is something about Santorum now that is connecting with Republicans; his aw-shucks nice-guy-ish-ness, his facility for talking about America’s days-gone-by with real nostalgia (at least in comparison to Romney, whose picture of old America seems more like something shot with Instagram than a real antique).

Still, Santorum’s train may not necessarily have arrived.  It should be noted that every  state Santorum has won has lower-than-average unemployment, and thanks to his lack of funding, he has yet to show himself competitive in a big media, wholesale campaign.  I expect that his campaign will start picking up money after Tuesday’s success.  Looking ahead to Super Tuesday, I would expect Santorum to focus his energies on Ohio, Virginia, and Oklahoma with secondary focus on Tennessee, North Dakota, and Georgia.  If he can win one of Ohio or Virginia and also poach a Southern state from Gingrich, I think his place as the challenger to Romney will be secure.  If he has enough resources to do so, Santorum would also be served well by focusing on the February 28 contest in Michigan.  Santorum has shown his greatest strength is the Midwest and though Michigan and its 9.1% unemployment rate present a very different challenge from Minnesota and Iowa, a Santorum win there would represent a major coup, and would likely establish him as the front-runner going into Super Tuesday.

As for Mitt Romney, his path to victory remains clear.  He still has all the advantages I described in the last post; the only thing that seems to have changed is the identity of his primary opponent.  That is a significant change. however.  Unlike Gingrich, who is easily to contrast with Romney, Santorum is in many ways the candidate Romney is attempting to be: clean-cut, devoutly religious, vivacious, et cetera.  Santorum is also unsaddled by Gingrich’s almost comically bad favorability ratings and cannot easily be attacked from the right; in a race against Santorum, Romney will have to go after him from the left (a dangerous move that would play directly into Santorum’s narrative and risk further alienating the base for the general election) or move to the right himself (exactly what the Obama campaign would like to see).

Still, Romney’s path remains clear.  He alone among the Republican candidates is poised to run a truly national campaign, and with a decisive set of victories on Super Tuesday, he could conceivably wrap up the nomination.  This is particularly true if Romney manages to sweep the three biggest states in play that day: Ohio, Virginia, and Georgia.  A more mixed Super Tuesday result would set the stage for a long race between Romney and the other survivor; a race I believe Romney is poised to win, but one that I think will likely damage him for the general election.  Key to ensuring a mixed Super Tuesday result does not occur will be holding Michigan, where a victory by anyone not named Romney would be seen as a sign of major upheaval and potentially as the death knell of Romney’s candidacy.

Unfortunately for Newt Gingrich, he failed to maintain his momentum coming out of South Carolina and has now been crushed in five consecutive contests.  As I wrote in my last post of this nature,

If Romney stages a comeback in Florida, though, I fear it may be over for Gingrich.  That Adelson is doling out his money in what seems to be a $5 million per state allowance (rather than just giving Gingrich a big lump sum) suggests that he’s not sold on Gingrich’s viability and that future gifts are dependent on performance.  The same must be said for the Gingrich’s newfound fundraising spurt.  If Gingrich fails to perform in Florida, those sources of money will dry up and he’ll likely be done.  Given the attitude of the GOP establishment toward him, there is next to no possibility of someone giving him a third shot.

Thus, it is hard to imagine him reinserting himself into the campaign, but Gingrich’s obituary has been written prematurely on too many occasions for me to feel comfortable doing it here.  The fact of the matter is that Gingrich is in the best position, from a monetary standpoint, of any candidate not named Mitt Romney.  For whatever reason, the Adelson family has not yet disabused itself of Gingrich, and that fact is enough to keep him afloat.  Gingrich has made explicit that his strategy relies upon winning the South as a demonstration that he is the “real conservative” in opposition to “the Massachusetts Moderate.”  This line has become increasingly implausible with Gingrich’s string of defeats, but his candidacy could see a revival should it put up victories and strong showings in Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, and Oklahoma on Super  Tuesday.  Looking beyond that (as Gingrich must, he has no prospect of wrapping things up that day), Gingrich has openings on March 13 in Alabama and Mississippi, and on March 17 in Missouri (this one will actually count).  A big Super Tuesday showing and victories in those states would indicate that conservative support had finally coalesced around Gingrich, and he would be the frontrunner.

I must say, though, that all of this is rather far-fetched.  Gingrich has nose-dived in the polls and he’s facing a three-week stretch in which almost nothing related to the campaign will happen.  All of the talk in February will be about Romney and Santorum.    I think that in all likelihood, Super Tuesday will be the last gasp for Gingrich, and he will be forced to admit defeat shortly thereafter.

As for Ron Paul, well, it seems that Santorum stole his strategy and actually made it work.  From an outside perspective, Paul’s two most potentially fertile states had to be Nevada (where he finished a distant second in 2008) and Minnesota (which once elected Jesse Ventura governor, so, you know, anything could happen.)  Paul did manage to rack up 27% of the vote in Minnesota, his best showing yet, but this was still a far cry from a victory.  As I said last time,

 In my view, if Paul does not win in Nevada – an open caucus state that should be better ideologically disposed to Paul than average – whatever very slim chance he now has of winning will be extinguished.

Not only did Paul fail to win Nevada, he failed to even repeat his second-place 2008 performance.  I stand by my earlier prognostication.  Paul may be a long way from actually dropping out of the race, but his goose is officially cooked.